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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Go to Jail. Do Not Pass 'Go.'

The Met may send Anna Netrebko to the gulag.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Concept art for the Metropolitan Opera's From the House of the Dead,
Anna Netrebko. Photo by Marty Sohl.
The Metropolitan Opera has been offering glimpses of its future in the New York Times this week. In an interview with Michael Cooper, incoming music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin promised that new productions of Aida and Salome would open future seasons, each starring Anna Netrebko. Superconductor has learned that a third is on the schedule for the Russian diva: a new version of Janacek's From The House of the Dead.

Ms. Netrebko, who first appeared in New York in a Mariinsky Opera staging of Ruslan ed Llyudmila has become the biggest opera star in the world. In recent years, she has expanded her repertory from light bel canto parts to heavier roles like Lady Macbeth and Tosca. Turandot is on the horizon, as is Elsa in a (rumored) new staging of Lohengrin. But why From The House of the Dead?

"We were thinking about The Cunning Little Vixen but apparently she only wanted to play the poacher's girlfriend," a representative said.  "Then we thought about the title roles in Jenůfa and Kat'a Kabanova, but neither seemed right for her voice. The title role in The Makropoulos Case would be ideal, but that opera is jinxed. From the House of the Dead rolls off the tongue smoothly, which is a large part of the opera's appeal.

Janacek's last opera has only been seen once at the Met, in a 2009 staging mounted by the late Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. This new production will be mounted by Franco Zeffirelli, and replace the drab walls of the Russian gulag with an elaborate panopticon design inspired by the Bastille. Rococo carvings and meaningless tribes of marching children will emigrate through the action, which is set in a gulag somewhere in Siberia.

"The original plan was to mount Siberia by Umberto Giordano but the City Opera beat us to the performance rights", a representative said. "It is our feeling that the presence of Ms. Netrebko will lend a much needed glamour and zest to From the House of the Dead. The presence of Mr. Zeffirelli will encourage our most loyal patrons to experience this wonderful opera, and Jeremy Sams is writing a new, comic libretto to punch things up a little."

From the House of the Dead is a masterpiece, with an all-male singing cast and two trouser roles. It sung in Czech and based on a novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, chronicling life inside a Russian gulag. According to sources, Ms. Netrebko, who is currently reprising the role of Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, was seen in the costume department being fitted for wings, indicating that her role will be that of the wounded eagle who is rescued by the prisoners and released, healed as a symbol of hope in the closing pages of the work.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats